President Lapidus Hosts Open Forum

Chris Gerhardt, Copy Editor

On Wednesday Nov. 3, Fitchburg State University President Richard Lapidus presented two open forum discussions on the state of the university. Held in Kent Recital Hall and streamed live on Youtube, the forums included updates on the university’s current situation, plans for the future, and opened the floor to any questions that those attending wished to ask. 

Both forums touched on the same information in a broad sense, with President Lapidus focusing on enrollment issues, fiscal details, and the university’s primary goals that need to be achieved. “What I want to talk today about, generally falls under the heading of change,” President Lapidus started by stating during the first forum at 10a.m. on Nov. 3.

The topic discussed at most length was the university’s current enrollment issue. This does not only cover students enrolling in the school for the first time however, but also students staying at Fitchburg State. With the COVID-19 pandemic, universities statewide saw a drop in enrollment, but what wasn’t elaborated on is how this drop in other institutions affected state schools like FSU. For example, during the forum, President Lapidus gave an overview of enrollment statistics of three different types of higher education institutions over the past twenty years; community colleges, state schools, and the UMass institution. The most noticeable drop overall came from community colleges, which contribute a fair number of students to state schools like FSU via transfer students moving up from their local community college. With less enrollment there, there are less transfers coming to schools like FSU. In terms of the UMass schools, due to there being less enrollment in recent years this leads to more students being accepted and studying at these particular schools as opposed to being waitlisted or rejected. The result is over course, less students at state schools since they are instead attending a school they would not have otherwise. When the topic gets to state schools, President Lapidus shared that the numbers are not only lower across the board but low because of all the mentioned reasons on top of the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Lapidus outlined a number of solutions to these issues. First and foremost there is the appointment of a new administrator, the Vice President of Enrollment Management: Richard Toomey. With his help the university can “start integrating admissions, financial aid, marketing, and communication more tightly together”, President Lapidus explained about the position and the man taking it up. There will also be a new Director of Admissions, a role that President Lapidus notes has been filled by three different individuals over the course of his time here at FSU.

Additionally President Lapidus mentioned other changes being made to the way prospective students are introduced to Fitchburg State. Aside from virtual tours that are customized for the individual interested, he also mentioned two ways current FSU students and alumni could aid in this regard. The first was something referred to as “Hometown High”, where current students would go to their high school to promote the university, providing both a personal touch and a more relatable person for high schoolers to speak to. For alumni, President Lapidus referred to the fact that “Students want to see the light at the [end of] the tunnel…they want to see that people are coming out…getting jobs and being successful.” Given the amount of time spent in college for many students, seeing the results really may just be something that is worth noting.

At the end of the forum when questions were being brought up, Irene Martyniuk Ph. D. asked about appealing to students just starting their college careers at older ages, such as 25, and making a daycare for prospective students with children. President Lapidus explained that the SGOCE (School of Graduate, Online and Continuing Education) is constantly looking into ways to appeal further to potential students that are already working full time jobs. While it has never amounted to anything, a daycare option is something that President Lapidus says has never left the table.

Of course this all relates to potential students coming in and not ones the university already has. A lot was learned from COVID classes and though the President only had a “small set of students” that he had talked to, he said that “they seem to be happy about being back on campus.” Later in the forum, President Lapidus talked about maintaining student enrollment by keeping an eye on students who may be struggling. “All of a sudden they go from an active student to a student that’s a fatality when we could have perhaps intercepted somehow,” he explained with regards to these types of students who leave the university under poor conditions, going on to talk about how the faculty need to be able to keep an eye out for signs “whatever [they] may be to try to interact with that [type of] student, make their life a little easier…before it becomes a catastrophe.”